CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In its 10-year-old education center under an interstate bridge in South Charleston, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters Local 160 trains young people who hope to make careers out of working on construction projects.
"We help apprentices and journeymen upgrade their skills in building and installing aerial lifts, metal framing, drywalls, acoustical ceilings, stairs and flooring -- including ceramic tiles, vinyl composition tile, sheet vinyl and linoleum," said Jeremy Jeffers, director of the union's apprentice and training program.
"'Skills, Productivity and Attitude' is our motto. I would also add 'Safety,'" Jeffers said.
The program is one of hundreds of training and apprenticeship programs around West Virginia -- programs backed by construction unions, contractors and companies.
On Wednesday, Wes Tully of South Charleston was one of the students at the carpenters' union center.
"This week, we are learning about steel framing and hanging drywalls," Tully said. "I may start a job on Monday."
Whether that happens or not, Tully said, "This will be my career. After I went to the Ben Franklin Career Center in Dunbar, I knew I wanted to do this. Everett [Johnson, an instructor at the training center] came to our school and I figured out I wanted to be an apprentice.
"The pay is good. But being happy with what you are doing is most important," Tully said.
The United Brotherhood of Carpenters also runs training centers in Parkersburg, Bridgeport and Wheeling.
"Our four-year apprenticeship program is registered through the United States Department of Labor," Jeffers said. "To become a journeyman carpenter, an apprentice takes 760 hours of classes and has 6,400 hours of on-the-job training."
To get into the program, each applicant must take a written test, a hands-on test and have a face-to-face interview.
When students graduate from the four-year carpenters' union program, they will have earned 43 hours of credit toward an associate college degree in applied science.
"Then you usually have to take seven more generic freshman-year classes, like English 101, to get 21 more credits for your associate degree," Jeffers said. "Several of us have gotten degrees through the Kanawha Valley Community and Technical College."
The Charleston-based Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation maintains a website with a map of apprentice programs. The "Crafts Apprenticeship Programs" map offers links to locations and programs in every county, programs that train apprentices to become: boilermakers, bricklayers, carpenters, cement masons, electricians, iron workers, insulators, millwrights, operating engineers, painters, plumbers, roofers, welders and sheet metal workers.
The ACT map lists programs close to residents in each of the state's 55 counties, as well as programs in 34 counties in other states along West Virginia's borders.
The map also offers links to details about each program and how to enroll. The links often include printable copies of apprenticeship applications; detailed schedules and locations of training programs; and links to unions that represent workers in each of the occupations.
"Our programs range from two years to five years. They are 'earn while you learn' programs, said Steve White, executive director of the ACT Foundation.
"Once you are accepted, you are called 'indentured' and you take at least 144 hours of classroom training a year. You work on jobs and get paid, working for local contractors on a variety of different tasks.